By Jasmin Perez
Riots and very massive demonstrations usually causes disruption, a lot of inconveniences and sometimes even vandalism and violence, and because not all of us agree on what deserves to be protested. In the eyes of supporters, however, activists are described as “ brave, strong and tenacious.” There are many people of course that don’t really care about “injustices” that don’t directly apply to them, or they simply do not agree with the situation to begin with. Nevertheless, these people who are seen by some to be to be ‘getting in the way of everyday life’ are viewed by others to be sacrificing themselves to fight for their beliefs. They believe it is what they can offer and because it is their right as members in this human race.
A social activist that is well known in the Bay Area for being an active participant in many social justice movements was kind enough to allow me to interview him and learn his perspective. Because I want to keep his identity anonymous, I will be referring to him as “Tim”. Tim uses the analogy of being in a small room with people, suddenly feeling like you’re starting to be neglected and ignored and starting to see the unfair decisions that are being made, whether they affect you or not. Its unjust, your voice is unheard and ignored. What do you do to restore their attention? You scream! You jump up and down -and if that doesn’t work, you might even start breaking things- anything to become the center of attention! Activists are saying: “Hey, pay attention to me!” The majority of citizens don’t agree with the groups of social activists like Tim who are fighting for justice through massive demonstrations, and in extreme cases vandalizing, rioting, and committing other crimes in the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The majority of the public’s opinion about protests in general range from being doubtful, to strongly against it. Even the most popular protests in history still had a majority of people voting against them.
Social Activists strongly believe protesting can help define new law, policy, or at least influence the direction of a political decision. Tim has been active during the past couple of months. He has been marching, blocking and physically chaining himself to police cars, and even being purposefully arrested to protest against police misconduct. He believes the most effective recent protest was one that took place at the Oakland Police Department. An organization called “Black Lives Matter”organized a protest of over 250 people outside the OPD and successfully blocked the freeway, which was their plan. Tim was present and was taking individual action by physically locking himself to the entrance door at the Department. His goal was to grab the attention of officials and publicize his intention for manifestation, which in his case was for police reform. He was one of the many that were thrown in jail that day. Despite his arrest, he considered it a success because the police and the public received the message that needed to be conveyed: “We are not going to sit here and do nothing, we are going to fight for police reform no matter what it takes.”
Rioting, in the eyes of activist like Tim, is in line with the concept of right action. He asserts that if there is injustice anywhere, about anything, we as humans, as citizens, must use our right to stand up for ourselves, confront it, which in extreme cases calls for rioting.
Robert Gangi, 70 years old has been fighting for police reform for most of his life because he believes there is a serious race issue with the system. Like Tim, he too was very interested in social justice issues in his community. As a result he created the Police Reform Organizing Project. Gangi explains the need for police reform, and says that “The targets are always lower-income people of color who live on the margins of society, sex workers, homeless people, and mentally ill people”.
Tim is a very good representation of most of the individual self-motivated activists that are fighting for police reform, because he has been involved in fighting for social, economic, environmental, ecological, and racial justice through organizing and campaigning, teaching, writing, speaking and other direct action since the late 1980’s. As a parent, he works hard to organize movements in his community, identifying himself as an activist. There are a lot of people like Tim and Gangi that are involved in riots against police brutality. Tim’s individual motive is: “Total liberation for all people and the earth. I believe that we must rescue ourselves from the devastation of the living world by industrialism and corporate control of seed, soil and story; of land, labor and life itself.” This is not the same for everyone that’s an activist but it seems that a lot of of people could agree Tim on a fundamental level, at least partially. Not everyone has a strong idea or some kind of short-term-solution to propose. I have heard propositions like “How about no cops at all? They’re not doing their job any way, I don’t feel protected.” or, more reasonably, “maybe the cops should actually live in the neighborhoods they work in”
Today rioting still takes place everywhere including the Bay Area when injustice or inequality occurs. It often does have some effectiveness in initiating reform the necessity is being ignored. Some even believe that the use of calling these aggressive physical actions “riots” just gives them a negative connotation. One of main problems with violent actions as a threat or a solution to enforce something that’s being rejected, like a police reform, is it isn’t always clearly directed at the target. Many think the chances that it does are small and either way, does a lot of damage to those who are possibly on your side along the way. Society is intensely divided on the philosophy of rioting, but if one thing is certain it’s that it gives those who take part a louder voice than possible without.